By  on May 1, 2012

E-tailer Bonobos was founded in 2007 as a purveyor of better-fitting pants — and as an alternative to jeans. Yet last November, the company added denim to its growing assortment of offerings, which now includes tailored clothing, sport shirts, swimsuits and shorts.

“Five years in, I’m tired of wearing Bonobos pants. I want to wear some jeans,” said Andy Dunn, co-founder and chief executive officer of the New York-based company.

Bonobos has focused on offering a pared-down, straightforward five-pocket denim design in three washes. A key selling point is that the jeans are made from Cone’s White Oak denim and produced in Los Angeles, but in a more affordable $125 to $145 price range than competing domestically manufactured premium brands. This is possible because of Bonobos’ direct sales model that cuts out the wholesale markup.

“A lot of denim is doing too much talking, with too much back pocket detailing,” said Dunn of the clean Bonobos designs. “We built our product around simplicity and the great Bonobos fit.”

As of last month, Bonobos had sold 8,200 pairs of jeans — a drop in the bucket compared to most denim brands, admitted Dunn. However, the company is on an impressive growth track, with Nordstrom taking notice and making a high-profile investment in the company last month.

The Seattle-based department store operator participated in a $16.4 million round of financing in Bonobos along with Accel Partners and Lightspeed Venture Partners. The deal brings Bonobos into 20 Nordstrom stores and the men’s shop on nordstrom.com this spring. The retailer is carrying the two best-selling product lines from Bonobos: washed chinos and no-iron cotton trousers. Some seasonal pants and shorts will also be offered in select Nordstrom stores and online.

“This is our first foray into wholesale. We felt their customer service DNA aligned with ours,” explained Dunn.

Bonobos is opening its first stand-alone store of sorts on Newbury Street in Boston this month, a second-floor space that allows customers to make appointments with “Bonobos Guides” who provide personalized shopping services. A similar program is available at the company’s New York headquarters, where guys can try on Bonobos product and then have purchases delivered via the Web site. “Our sales per square foot are half an Apple store — about five times the industry average,” noted Dunn.

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